Archive for Movies


Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, MY "TOP" LISTS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by erikball123

Before I get to the list…let me answer a few questions that are sure to come up in the attempts to spurn any potential backlash. I find that Christmas movies seem to be a personal staple to some people during the holidays and contain crazy things like “special feelings” or “nostalgia.” This list is not an attempt to smash your sugar plums or douse your red-nose. Merely an observation from a talky, simple, Lutheran Drama teacher who likes Christmas.

A few things to consider when reviewing the list:

  • One might perceive some of offerings on the list as “Christmas Specials” (more likely to be found on TV, rather than in the theatres or on DVD.) I say…deal with it. Anything that bring people together in one place at one time to enjoy something with a good message….that’s a MOVIE. (So, church is a movie, school is a movie…and anytime we eat at In-N-Out burger….a movie. Read the bottom of the cup.)
  • I do not have any Hanukkah or Kwanzaa films on here. Not because I don’t believe they deserve to be a part of a blog post like this…but because frankly, aside from “8 Crazy Nights” (which is a cinematic masterpiece!) I don’t know any!
  • I’m basing my choices on what my family and I ENJOY. So, feel free to disagree with me. I love commentary. Review your own list and challenge my views…but don’t say I’m wrong. These are opinions only.


I like this movie. I do. But, not that much. It’s good…the drunk Santa on the float remains as one of the impressions I like to do at Christmas parties the most…and the scene where the little, bratty girl is acting like a monkey is so annoying you just HAVE to laugh at it. It certainly has stood the test of time and people sometimes go ga-ga over the movie, but I personally could never connect with the Santa. He’s kinda pushy at times. Granted he’s elderly and we should learn to be more patient with the elderly…but he’s also Santa, a man of great status. More status requires more responsibility…and a smidge more patience. Smacking people with canes…yeah…I betcha he beats the reindeer too. Rudolph’s nose is bloody red because he “accidentally fell down the stairs.” Abusive Santa. Sheesh. And that janitor guy with the thick accent (“trow it on da floa!”) Gimmie a break. This one remain a Ho-Ho-Hum for me. But….I’ll keep it on a White Christmas Noise as I bake cookies.


Santa: I am happy you came!
Child: Ooh you ARE Sinterklaas!
Santa: Wlll yes of course
Child: I knew it, I knew you would understand me.
Santa: Of couse, tell me what you would like to get from Sinterklaas
(Missing from this clip is when she answers him ) I don’t want anything, I already have everything, I just want to stay with this lovely lady—
Santa: Do you want to sing something for me?
Child: SaintNicolas Little Rascal,
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!
SaintNicolas Little Rascal
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!

19. SANTA CLAUS: The Movie

You won’t begrudge me at least ONE “so bad, it’s good” movie entry, would you? This is a terrible movie, I’ll start off by saying that. However, it’s the only movie I like with Dudley Moore in it, and ANYTHING starring John Lithgow is gold. The movie’s beginning is actually quite clever in telling a unique tale of how Santa came to be. But plot lines rapidly misfire as soon as things are brought into the present. Homeless boys, lollipops that make you fly (with the help of reindeer dust, of course) and still, no one questions Moore’s silly accent. Lithgow is kinda funny at times and we all know he plays the bad guy REALLY good…but it’s one of those movies I tend to watch every now and then, because it’s so….I don’t know…inventive, at the very least. It’s a less-known movie, so subsequently people haven’t seen it. Tell me what you think.


Animal rights activists protested the movie saying that the “loop-dee-loop” scene was cruel to the reindeer. What they didn’t know is that the actual reindeer used in the film were computer-generated. In reality, the producers saved 15 reindeer from being slaughtered from a Dutch farm.

18. FROSTY The Snowman

As far as cartoons are concerned…this is simply not a well-made cartoon. I used to watch He-Man as a kid, growing up. I loved that stupid show…and recently watched a segment of an episode on the internet…and I thought to myself “why did I like this so much.” Frosty is kinda the same way. The story line is as delicate as a snowflake and offers a luke warm villain. (Kinda a cross between Disney’s Capt. Hook and an older Criss Angel in a bad tux.) The rabbit is funny…and the kid who wants to name the snowman “Oatmeal” is kinda funny…but aside from that, this is nothing more than a cartoon made from a popular Christmas song. It’s one of those shows that will be watched every year, as long as you keep putting them on television. I found myself watching it yesterday, in fact. The central theme of the movie is a good one, I’ll admit.


The Gene Autry cover of the song went to #7 on the contemporary charts the year is was released in 1950. In 2007, Kimberly Locke released a cover of the song and it bolted up to #1 on the US Hot Adult Contemporary Charts.


This is such a clever, revolutionary film that brought back the lost art form of stop-motion animation. Tim Burton is a genius and everything he touches turns to gold in my book. I love this movie and hope that it someday makes its way to the stage in some form. (Like Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.) This film earned a lower standing on the list only because it’s not a movie I readily think of when I think Christmas. It’s probably better suited as a stand-alone “good movie.”


Disney REALLY pushed Burton to allow the making of a sequel. They wanted to do a computer animated sequel where Jack visits Thanksgiving town. Burton responded quickly saying that computer animation would have never been an option, and that he’s very protective of Jack and the other characters. He felt that any sequels would cheapen the purity of the characters. I love Tim Burton.


Home Alone is one of those movies I could watch over and over. Not because I believe it is a cinematic masterpiece, but rather it falls into the same category as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters of Dirty Dancing. (I know…insert joke here.) But, every time it’s on TV, I stop and watch part of it. I say the reason the show is such a success has to do with the post Ferris Bueller genius of John Hughes and a wonderful comedic team of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (who is under appreciated, in my book.) The scene where a tarantula is placed on Harry’s face…I still say is the world’s BEST onscreen scream ever. Brilliant. But, I like this movie as a holiday favorite because of the scenes involving the mysterious old man who salts the sidewalks in the neighborhood. Kevin and the old man’s eventual relationship eventually brings forth a genuine moment later in the film when the old man’s family greets him for the first time in years, that ALWAYS brings tears to my eyes. It’s gold.


The movie Kevin watches in the film “Angels with Filthy Souls” pays tribute to the James Cagny film “Angels with Dirty Faces.”


Here we are. I have a feeling my wife will be slighting upset that this particular show is lower on my list. It has become nothing short of a tradition in my house to watch this movie curled up on the couch, covered with our pets, sipping cocoa and admiring the roar of our gas fireplace that I turned on with a festive flick of a switch. I do like the story and find myself singing “..put one foot in front of the other…” at the weirdest times…but it’s not exactly my favorite. Which is odd, because I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. The one thing it DOES have going for it…I hate the villain. Burgermeister Meisterbuger is just heartless and stupid (bad combo.) In the movie when they say “and the Burgermeister’s kinda died off…” I’m like WOOT! (And if you’re ever face to face with the biggest threat to Christmas or good will….just gift him a choo-choo, and life is good.)


Watch the kids in town square when the Burgermeister is burning their toys. All of them are crying…but the one who says “We’ll never play again” is smiling…and remains smiling. What the stink is that about?


I might upset a few with this one as well. While I wouldn’t gather the kiddies around to watch this one on Christmas Eve, I would say that it’s one of the coolest of the “bad” monster movies. Great concept for a little monster set in the most innocent of settings. That creates instant mayhem. Keep in mind, I’m NOT a horror movie fan. Don’t like em. But this is just more of a creepy monster movie…and who can forget the infamous microwave scene?


There’s a plot hole at the beginning of the film. At the beginning of the film we have kids coming home from school. It’s Christmas Eve! Boy, school in that district must really stink!

13. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (George C. Scott Version)

There are a billion Christmas Carols out there. (Everything from a halfway decent Patrick Stewart version to a hyped-up musical theatre version with Kelsey Grammar to a Mr. Magoo version that’s boring after like two minutes.) One of my favorites has always been the George C. Scoot version. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it. It’s good, old fashioned storytelling at it’s finest, and Scott and darn good at playing the money-grubbing miser. The kiddies will find it boring, because anything in black and white is unwatchable, right? But, this is Christmas movie material to drink Egg Nog by, for sure.


Maybe I’m missing something…but in the movie Scrooge says that his father always held a grudge against him because his mother died after giving birth to him. And yet…he has a younger sister. What the….? The milkman?


You gotta love Bill Murray. He’s a great Scrooge, and the contemporary take on the tale is exactly what the 80’s needed. It has all the elements. FUTURE: Murray’s career has certainly take a HUGE booster shot since those days and is considered one of the greatest comic/tragi-comic minds of our time. PRESENT: Rarely does a Christmas go by that I don’t watch the movie at least twice. It’s on TV all the time and is still very funny today. PAST: Look at the cast of washed-up comedians who at that time were considered forces to be reckoned with. Carol King, Buster Pointdexter, Bobcat Goldthwait….there’s even a reference to Mary Lou Retton!! Hilarious.


In the movie when Claire gives Frank a business card it reads “Operation Reach Out.” When Frank visits the shelter, he walks by a sign that says “Operation Outreach.”


Jim Carrey as the Grinch seems like a perfect fit. Most people I talk to who are younger than me LOVE this movie. Most of the people older than me, hate this movie. I’ll agree that the plot is padded like a down-pillow to stretch it to two-hours. (I mean, does anyone REALLY care that the sex-pot Who winds up with the Grinch later? And, really…what’s the attraction?) The story revolving around Cindy Lou Who looking for the real reason to celebrate Christmas is a better choice and I would have been happy with just that plot line. (Any moment involving the “young Scrooge” which is obviously a little person in make-up….is just plain boring.) But every moment with Carrey in the cave…or interacting with Max…is very, very fun. (“Max! Pick out a bow!”) The one-liners are fast and hilarious…and I love watching it. I suppose every movie has slow parts, right?


Carrey sat in the make-up chair every day for hours to get “Grinch-a-fied” and was known to hum Christmas carols in a “dream-like” state as it was applied.


All I have to say is “they can’t ALL be at the top of the list people!” People LOVE Rudolph. I do too. But, this particular stop animation has such a deep nostalgia (I would argue) because of the cheesy-ness of it all. I love the Burl Ives link (who I still think sounds a little flat when he sings. Just me.) and the credits at the beginning that lists all the songs that he sings. I betcha that was in the contract negotiation. Such a big name, Burl Ives…now he tours with Lady GaGa.

I like in the movie how all the reindeer are JERKS. I mean Comet is every P.E. teacher us wimps hated in high school. (You know who I’m talking about…the teacher that would side with all the jocks an make fun of the weaklings.) Again…we have a jerk of a Santa. Why people like this guy in this movie, I have no idea. He back-talks Mrs. Claus (and check out the food on the dining room table….grey. Ick.) He disses on the elves during choir practice and makes a big deal over his one-man musical number “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle.” (“I’m the King of Jingle-ling!” Really? Where’s your crown?) I’ve met several Kings of Jingle-ling…and they’re usually performing one-man musical acts too. (They’re more like Queens…but whatever.)

Gotta love Yukon Cornelius…”I changed my mind!” (I still shout that throughout the house sometimes!) The Bumble is a fascinating character and the only beast I’ve known to be stopped dead in his tracks because of swift dentistry. And….finally, let’s brake the ice on Hermie. Ah, Hermie. Where do I begin? Purists will refuse to hear anything remotely insinuative about this character. (After all, it wasn’t unknown to mock those light in the loafers back in the day…take a look at the Cowardly Lion, another character I adore more than words.) But, we LOVE how eccentric Hermie is and it wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t witness him fixing the doll’s teeth or performing amazingly bad pig impressions. God bless Hermie.


All the female reindeer in the show have no antlers. Reindeer are the only deers where the females also grow antlers.

9. ELF

Elf is one of those movies that came at the height of one actor’s career and at the time was lumped together with other silly movies like Blades of Glory, Bewitched and Wedding Crashers. At the time…was it funny, sure…but was it considered anything MORE than that? Absolutely not. Just take a trip back in time and see what I’m talking about. One-hit Christmas wonders, who attempted to make a long-lasting Holiday movies that just didn’t “stick” after its first go. “Fred Claus”-Vince Vaughn…”Deck the Halls” – Matthew Broderick….”Surviving Christmas” – Ben Afflick…and dare I go there…”The Santa Claus” with Tim Allen. The only reason this lump of coal got so many sequels and airtime is because of the attachment to Disney. For the love of all that is holy, have you seen how many AIR BUD and LAND BEFORE TIME sequels there are??

Elf on the other hand has legitimate staying power in my opinion. It successfully satirizes the stop-motion animation of the late 50s and 60s (down to the Elf costuming!) and it has an endearing plot with a semi-decent ending. (Plus it has about a BILLION one-liners that are said throughout the household time and time again. Someone in your house at some time has said “Buddy, the elf…what’s your favorite color?” I guarantee it.


Originally, Jim Carrey was signed to play the part of Buddy. Also, in the beginning scenes at the North Pole, the elf Ming Ming….yup, that’s Peter Billingsly who played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”


I’m surprised at how many people HAVEN’T seen this particular special. It follows the Muppet Show gang to Fozzie’s mother’s country home for an “old fashioned” Christmas. Of course there is a blizzard, and havoc ensues…but what is unique is that it brings together all of the Muppet worlds which, at the time, remained quite segregated. Doc and the Fraggles, along with Sesame Street favorites are all part of the festivities. It’s fun to see the Swedish Chef and Big Bird have a dialogue about Christmas dinner…and all the while the Chef is fixing to cook up the giant bird! (It’s also funny to see how alike Henson and Oz’s collective voices are when you put their characters in such close proximity. Ernie and Kermit…Bert and Fozzie….wow.) It’s a simple storyline filled with gags…and sure there isn’t much substance, but again it’s only 1/2 hour of merriment. It’s good fun, and I have to watch it every year.

By the way…this year “Muppets: Letters to Santa” came out and is available on DVD. Not bad at all! I really liked it! (I love PEPE LA PRAWN. One of my new favorites!) It’s a decent offering with a fun storyline. I recommend it. “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas” however….skip it. New aged mumbo jumbo mixed with a healthy holiday dose of political correctness. Add Whoopi Goldberg…and you’ve got a taste in your mouth like bad egg nog.


This special has been riddled with edits since its original release. Entire songs of “Sleigh Ride,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Home for the Holidays” were cut due to complaints regarding music rights. While these cuts are unfortunate, this Christmas special remains quite enjoyable.


The Grinch is one of my favorite bad guys. He’s so upset and “heartless” because he’s forgotten about and isolated on a mountain top. That’s everyone’s biggest fear, isn’t it? Being alone. Especially at Christmas. I love how sympathetic this particular bad guy is and I’ve always had a connection to the story as a result. The narration is fun and Boris Karloff is brilliant. This, the original adaption of the book, focuses solely on the story of the Grinch only tying in Cindy Lou at one point. There’s something really okay about this in the sense that the later Jim Carrey version fails in having too much going on at once. I mean…who care about the Mayor in the Carrey version…and do we need another bad guy? This version is just right, and I cannot get enough of poor Max the dog. The shot of him as the Santa coat mannequin, clinching the pin cushion in his teeth is classic.


The lyrics to the song “Fahoo Forays” were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.


Everyone’s favorite blockhead always turns up around Christmas time in this whimsical special that follows the Peanut gang in their attempts to put on a pageant-like show. I love this show because the message is so very relevant and the characters (while little children) are still very much like everyone we associate with every day. There’s the domineering Lucy who has to be the Christmas Queen…Schroeder, the under-appreciated artist, Linus the one everyone’s quick to disregard, but the one with the most foresight, and of course, Charlie Brown…who can’t understand why Christmas has become so materialistic. I find the show charming, heart-warming and funny. (And my wife paid me the ultimate compliment the other night when we were watching the show and identifying the characters with our friends…and she said I’m Snoopy.)

Linus’ single-spotlit telling of the coming of the Christ-child is poignant and beautiful. One of the most magical, memorable moments from ANY Christmas movie and one I will cherish always. I fear one day, in a whirlwind of distraction, some executive will edit that part of the special out. At that point, my friends, from a media / commercial standpoint, Christmas will be lost.


During his famed speech, Linus, who is well known to be dependent on his security blanket, actually lets go of it when he recites these words: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” which is from Luke 2:10.


Chevy Chase. You either love him or hate him. Regardless of your feelings, one must admit that Christmas Vacation has earned a coveted spot in the traditional Holiday movie line-up. In my opinion, it’s the very best of all the Vacation movies (which, in hind sight, isn’t saying much….Vegas Vacation=barf) but it’s also very true to the burdens we all encounter from time to time in hosting family and tradition. Clark’s unwavering determination to make sure his family meets a “good old fashioned family Christmas” is nothing short of inspiring and in the end, (*spoiler alert*) while the Christmas miracle comes with a promise of a bonus check…and that’s about it…it still leaves you with a warm gushy feeling in your heart as abundant as cousin Eddie’s one-liners. A fast favorite for those who have never seen it. (It does have some swear words…but the name-calling scene is hilarious and rivals the swearing scene from “What about Bob?”)


The only Vacation movie to not feature the Lindsey Buckingham song “Holiday Road” throughout the entire film. Also, the actress who played Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) was the original voice of “Betty Boop.” This was her last appearance in a film. She passed away shortly afterward.


Okay…I have a thing for Muppets! Seriously, though, this is a fantastic version of the classic Dicken’s tale. (Of course, featuring the famous Muppet craziness and charm.) The Henson writing team is very clever and how they wrap a story around their army of kooky characters. (Fozziwig…The Marleys, Robert and Jacob, played by Statler and Waldorf…and of course, if you’re going to have a telling narrator, who better than the great Gonzo.) The role of Scrooge being played by Michael Caine (who was BORN to play the role) is a great idea. I believed his every move…unlike some special guests to the Muppet specials who look like they’re just going through the punches. It’s a warm, classic retelling that I love more than mistletoe and homemade gingerbread.


This was the first feature-length production in which Kermit’s voice was not provided by Jim Henson (who had recently died). Steve Whitmere took over the role. Also, Michael Caine to this day, considers Scrooge to be one of his favorite roles.


Stand back! Prepare yourself. This movie remains to be the most quoted movie in my household and one of our favorite movies of all time! It’s a brilliant and simple story with iconic characters we can identify with nuzzled in a time somewhat forgotten by today young ones. It’s nostalgia personified. The Red Ryder BB Gun is always at the top of my Christmas list, and I wouldn’t know what to do with the thing if I ever received one. But, just like the “Christmas Story,” our narrated character lays it all out for us in the hopes that we may connect in similar plights in our collective family / holiday journeys. Randy is such a lovable little dolt, Mrs. Shields is everybody’s elementary school teacher and the Old Man…if you can’t find something about this character that reminds you of growing up with your own father, then maybe you need to watch the movie again.


According to Director Bob Clark, Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, “The Old Man”. However, Clark didn’t learn of this until later and the studio didn’t want to pay Nicholson’s fee anyway, which would have doubled the budget. Regardless, Clark says that Darren McGaven was still the better choice and was born to play the role.


Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s offering is a brilliant old-school movie musical that never gets old. I love the off-beat shenanigans of Kaye, the droll set-ups of Crosby…and the goofy review-style productions they offer in grandiose fashion. The theatre geek in me would love to be transported back in time to just see the movie sets for these types of movies. Amazing, and a great story. True the buttermilk by the fire “counting your blessings” scene is cheesy…and I still get miffed at the nosey receptionist who misinterprets a phone call and turns events on their ears. But, what would an old-fashioned movie musical be without the sudden conflict and inevitable resolve at the end. The songs are some of my favorite of the season and I will follow this “old man” wherever he wants to go!


The “Sisters” comedy act that Crosby and Kaye perform was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set and the director thought it was so funny that it was written in.


I think Jimmy Stewart is so wonderful in this role, and this iconic story is one that will forever be the reason I get going when the going gets tough….look past the negative…and always be thankful for what I have in life. A bit overly dramatic? Perhaps, but seriously, this remains my favorite film of all time. The sentiment in each moment and the warmth in George’s devotion to the company and his family and the resolve that find him literally saying grace at the head of the table with his family and friends surrounding him. It’s a beautifully filmed movie with a brilliant script. Clarence, although goofy, is still simple enough to be thought upon as what an innocent, on-looking being from heaven might actually be like if among us. And the villain…the crippled Mr. Potter…is superb. He’s horrible in his selfishness and with an air of Scrooge and a hoarse rumble of the Grinch…he helps to generate a character we can all relate to. We get behind George from the very beginning and rally him at the end. It’s one of my favorite traditions to watch this movie on Christmas Day. I love it.


As Uncle Billy is leaving George’s house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene (“I’m all right, I’m all right!”) and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”

For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman


Well, there you have it folks. I would encourage you to think about your top 20 Christmas movies (or top 10, or top 5) and post them here in the comments section. Maybe I forgot one or two, and the point of this blog post is to shine some light on some amazing movies that you and your family might enjoy this holiday season. I would like to wish you and yours Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Posted in MY "TOP" LISTS with tags , , , on September 21, 2008 by erikball123

Let’s have fun with this post, eh? I wasn’t really in the mood to sit down and crank out a deeply-rooted, mind-bending post tonight. Due to the fact that I kinda guzzled a Mt. Dew recently and cannot seem to stop blinking…I feel kinda punchy and find myself giggling at the silliest things these past few minutes. (Like, for instance, someone dropped something outside in my subdivision, and the cat jumped really high. But, that’s not exactly what made me laugh. It was the look of shear disgust he had on his face afterwards. Dude…he was mad. Hilarious.)

So, I thought I would throw out my top 20 favorite comedies of all time! You have to understand, before I even attempt this, I’m basing my list on a standard rule. Does it make me laugh, and do I want to see it again when I need a “good laugh.” That’s my criteria. Plot, actors’ performance, etc… none of these matter to me right now. Simply…does it make me laugh.

20. MODERN TIMES – Vintage Charlie Chaplin at his very best. While this isn’t how a lot of people would like to start off a BEST OF…list, I’m going to have to defend this black-n-white semi-silent film. This film has a brilliantly simple storyline that is executed with charm, style and grace by the world’s finest clown. If you’ve never seen this film…it is wildly funny, and has a hidden tragic inner-lining. Favorite Moments include the “feeding machine” (just look at his facial expressions!) and the roller-skating department store scene. Rumor has it that he did that scene in ONE take, and that was a real hole in the ground, and there wasn’t any safety net. (Chaplin had the reputation for being a smidge crazy.) Good stuff.

19. ZOOLANDER – I love Ben Stiller. In my opinion, he one of the hardest working men in comedy today. He takes his craft very seriously and always manages to deliver. There are several Stiller films that could walk onto this list, but Zoolander has to be my favorite. *cough cough* “I think I have the black lung.”

18. COMING TO AMERICA – Let me just say that Eddie Murphy isn’t really the comedic actor that he was. He’s kinda like Mike Myers…loved his stuff when he first was getting big. But now that he’s HUGE…don’t like him so much. Luckily, this movie came out on the heels of his Saturday Night Live stint, and it’s GOLDEN. Rich guy becomes poor, poor guy becomes rich. Two grumpy old men. This also featured the first Multi-Murphy scene where he played several characters. This is also the funniest movie I’ve ever seen James Earl Jones featured in. “Darn shame what they did to that dog.”

17. L.A. STORY – First and foremost. Steve Martin is a genius. There, I said it. This is a GREAT movie about L.A. in the early 90’s and the stereotypes that come along with being a Californian. Absolute favorite line: “So, I hear you’re studying the art of conversation?” …..”Yes.”

16. SHAUN OF THE DEAD – In light of the fact that I don’t care much for horror movies, (Ok, I despise them, really) this would also count as probably my favorite horror movie too. But, let me just say that there are some moments in this film that are not only laugh out loud funny, but amazingly clever. Reoccurring bits that are brought up with perfection JUST when you think they were dead. ……Like a zombie!

15. THE JERK – I’ve already said Steve Martin was a genius. But this solo effort at the very beginning of his film career is probably the craziest…silliest movie I’ve seen starring Martin. While there are a few moments that should have wound up on the editing room floor in my opinion, (it drags), when he grabs that dog and carries it in front of him because he’s naked…I almost wet myself.

14. DUMB & DUMBER – Ok, if anyone argues with this, I’m afraid we’re going to have to resort to fisticuffs. This is, by far, Jim Carrey at his best. Forget the solid acting efforts…forget IN LIVING COLOR…this is gold. Jeff Daniels and Carrey should be working as a team in every movie they do. While over-the-top in every way, and highly one-dimensional in structure…it makes me laugh EVERY TIME. I love watching the OTHER actors in the scenes with Carrey. You can seen a hint of “DEAR GOD, DON’T LAUGH!!!” in their eyes, every time they have t remain serious in a scene with Carrey.

13. A CHRISTMAS STORY – This movie gets a nod because this is my Christmas tradition. If Ted Turner ever stops his yearly 24-hours of “Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve, I think I’ll protest. For the past 10 years, my wife and I have been chanting “you’ll shoot your eye out” and running around the house acting like Randy. (Weee! A Zeppelin!)

12. PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE – I know Paul Reubens got into trouble a long time ago. He was a naughty boy. But, an actor’s personal life never really got in the way of my enjoying their work on screen. This is a predictable, silly, colorful fun-house ride. Unforgettable scenes…an innocent storyline…and I always in myself quoting this movie for about three months after I watch it. “…IN THE BASEMENT!”

11. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF – When you look up classic move in the dictionary…there is a picture of Matthew Broderick singing danke shane. (sp?) I was in class the other day talking with my high schoolers about…eh, something, I don’t remember….and I referenced Ferris Bueller. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I almost lost it. I couldn’t believe it. Mr. Rooney!!! Grace!!! Cameron!!! JEANIE!!!! Needless to say, I assigned it for homework.

10. THREE AMIGOS – Ok, this film features my favorite villain. Alfonso Arau is a highly under appreciated actor. El Guapo is so hilarious, I imitate him every time I truly get angry. “Plethora” alone is a stand-by word in my vocabulary, just in case I need to emphasize something. Chevy Chase is another one of those guys who, in his hay day, was amazing, but faded fast. Christmas Vacation barely missed making it onto my list, so I’ll tip my hat to him for that, but the collaboration between Chase, Martin and Short…dude, it’s crazy funny. “My little buttercup, I–love–you!”

9. MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL – Obvious choice, right? A best of list of ANY kind cannot be passed by without Monty Python at least getting mentioned. (That includes BEST CHOREOGRAPHY, BEST FINE DINING SIDE DISHES and BEST WORST SCENE.) British people are funny….there silly ways of talking and stuff. They say silly things…and fall down a lot. And then when the do it together in armor….very much ha-ha.

8. OSCAR – Here’s where I’m going to have to do some explaining. I LOVE this movie, mainly because I like situation comedy a lot. I also like word play and quick dialogue. (That’s why I can’t watch movies in the movie theaters anymore. Everything has become such a social event, nobody wants to listen to a movie.) This has some STELLAR dialogue, hilarious situations, and it is presented in real-time, which I love. Stallone is at his VERY BEST in my opinion. Tim Curry, Chaz Palminteri (before he got skinny), Peter Reigert (before he got chubby)….amazing cast!

7. CLUE – Call it a plug for the play my wife is directing this year, or not. I don’t care. I wouldn’t spend two years working out kinks and adapting a screenplay for the stage if I didn’t think it was worthy of high praise. This is a crazy funny movie with an all-star cast of some of the funniest people in the history of movies. (Madeleine Kahn, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry…to name a few.) A smidge grainy…and the editing is poor (the post-production voice-overs are SOOOOO noticeable and annoying) but whatever. I love the screenplay, and it builds upon an already solid game board foundation that everyone was anxious to get a little elaboration on. “Oui, oui mad’am.” “No, I just want to powder my nose.”

6. THE PRINCESS BRIDE – This movie is funny. But, I like it chiefly because I find myself getting lost in the movie every time I watch it. Do you know what I mean? Ok, here’s an example…I’ll be at the dining room table grading papers, and if I shuffle thru the television stations to simply see what’s on…if I catch this movie playing…the world stops and I have to watch it to completion. It’s a fun, silly movie….with heart.

5. BEST IN SHOW – Christopher Guest is simply amazing at what he does. There are several movies of his I could add to this list, but out of all of them, I like this phony documentary the best. This is another example of AMAZING ENSEMBLE. Fred Williard should be paid as an actor by the word. Everything that guy says is hilarious.

4. SPACEBALLS – Raunchy…sure. Stupid…oh, yes. Weak plot…”what plot?” It’s a high budget, Mel Brooks-a-thon. It’s like someone gave him millions of dollars, a week to write a script…and said “now go!” Its unbridled, reckless silliness. I love it, I love it, I love it. John Candy is his own best friend…plain yougurt….and Dot Matrix. I mean, sure it could have been pieced together at a film school frat party for kicks and giggles, but it seems to work. And if you asked me, it was a huge risk throwing something like that out there. But, it remains a cult-classic! Brooks is either a genius…or a wacko!

3. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN – Yet another Mel Brooks classic. This story is great, but the true joy in this film (and quite frankly, the reason it’s so high on my list) is because of Gene Wilder. What a gift to the screen. He’s probably the world’s best straight-faced comedic actor. While I’m not a huge fan of Teri Garr’s, I do think she’s brilliant in this film too. What “Frankenstein” might lack in recklessness (compaired to “Spaceballs”), it picks up in substance. This is Brook’s finest screeenplay in my opinion.

2. CADDYSHACK – Where do I start? This is a diamond in the rough. This is one of the MOST QUOTED movie of all time. I say lines from this movie daily. It has a weak plot, and some of the jokes are totally obvious, but who cares! Ted Knight is amazing in the film…Bill Murray is a wonderfully loveable character…and you find yourself rooting for the underdog in the end. (You really don’t know why…but you do.) I even like the fact that the girl that plays Meggy is SUCH a terrible actress. I even find THAT funny.

1. GHOSTBUSTERS – Some of you old school movie critics may say “but I would define this as a full-blown comedy.” Fair enough. But, this movie is great on so many levels. It’s a respectable special effects movie (especially in its time), it features an amazing ensemble, the script is hilarious, the pacing is perfect….I mean, I could go on and on. While the story is a smidge “whatever”…it remains my favorite comedy of all time. I’ve probably seen Ghostbusters a million times. Another highly quotable movie for me. It the type of movie, that YEARS later when I’m sitting on my couch watching the movie on TV, I’m thinking to myself, “I wonder i these guys KNEW what they were making, when they were making it.” It’s just legendary. Legendary.

Well, that’s it. I would highly recommend you catching these films if you haven’t already. I would also love to hear your opinions. Did I miss one that should certainly be on the list? Am I nuts? You tell me. I’d love to hear your top 20 as well.

Some movies that just barely didn’t make it on the list, but worth mentioning:

  • Noises Off
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • Parenthood
  • The Birdcage
  • The Producers (the original)
  • Hear No Evil…Speak No Evil
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Police Academy Movies (I’m a sucker.)
  • Beetlejuice

Blessings to you all until next time!

“wHy so sERIous?”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2008 by erikball123

I was inspired by my MS Clowning & Puppetry Class to talk about the world’s coolest villain: the Joker. Yeah, I’m a die-hard Batman fan. Forget web-slinging fools or Superdorks in spandex, the Bat is the man. In class my students are working on building their own clown characters based on classic clown types, which can be very hard to do. Clown characters are supposed to be extensions of yourself…to a degree. They are exaggerated, overly physical, comedic beings that are supposed to be offered as a “caricatured you.” Everyone, of course, wants their clown to look like Heath Ledger portrayal of the The Joker…and at that age, everyone seems to associated clowns with psychopaths. (Not a class period goes by when I ask for examples of Whiteface Clowns that a student doesn’t shout out “IT!”….from the Stephen King movie/novel. Like, I’ve seen it, or something! Heh!) But, truth be told, clowns (whether good, bad or ugly) remain a highly respected and under-appreciated form of performance art to this day.

But, back to Batman. First and foremost, I must give kudos where they are deserved. I’m not one to throw award predictions around or make idle comments on the scope of an actor’s worth based on a single performance…but if Ledger gets an Oscar nod, or an actual posthumous award, I wouldn’t be surprised. His portrayal of the deformed, destructive, smiling lunatic in THE DARK KNIGHT, is simply amazing. What a multi-layered performance! I truly enjoyed the movie.

But, I grew up with Batman. Reruns from the 60s series ran at 6:30am before I went away to school everyday. (And, no I did not grow up in the 60s.) I used to LOVE the Penguin…he was my favorite villain for a while on that show…but after catching Grumpy Old Men (that cinematic masterpiece), turns out I only really like Burgess Meredith. But, the campy series was like eating a handful of marshmallows. Not much substance, very sweet, easy to swallow…and leaves a weird taste in your mouth afterward. It was just a smidge….eh…..weird. I categorize it under the same file as old-school Star Trek. While a fan…there’s just something about those types of shows that seemed almost “underground” and unpolished. It was like I was watching a late night, cable-access, University television show produced by obnoxious frat boys and brilliant chess club geeks collectively, complete with choppy editing and lame plot structures. But it was fun.

However…I need to talk about the Joker on that series. (Played by a forever mustached Cesar Romero.) First of all, shave your stinkin’ mustache if you’re playing the Joker, dude! I don’t care how in-style they were. Some say it was Romero’s monniker. (Much like Marilyn Monroe’s beauty spot.) Whatever. Under all that make-up Romero just looked….well, skraggly! Second…the dude never smiled. He always looked like he was in pain, and being shocked by a Tazer gun at the same time. He bounced around, and while the contrived laugh he cranked out every now and then seemed out of place at times…it was kinda creepy. The lavender suit, phoney laugh and cheesy plots all kinda ran together for me. Sometimes “Joker episodes” would leave me very unhappy.

I’ve never caught the Batman animated series, but…check it out…Luke Skywalker does the voice of the Joker. What the stink!? Joker Skywalker! Eh. Doesn’t seem like a good fit for me. But then again, who else with ANY star power are they going to find to voice the guy. Hayden Christinsen? Nah. Harrison Ford is still frozen in carbonite and is a bit unavailable.

Then there was Jack Nicholson. There is nothing bad anyone can say about this guy. I think he’s borderline brilliant…and the fact that he’s a grade-A arrogant slob in real life, doesn’t really bother me much. There is something about the way he carries himself in every picture that just “sells!” If you look back at that first Batman movie….completely out of context in comparison to the later Batman films…you HAVE to agree that this film was HUGE back when it was released. Just HUGE. It was the rebirth of Batman….they had huge star power behind the film…and it was a lot of crazy movie magic. Win, win, win. Granted…Nicholson’s Joker wasn’t nearly as tragic as Ledger’s…but the fun house approach to the character was so cool. Everyone wanted to be the Joker after the movie came out. (Just like my students now!) And I think there are moments in that film that are just plain freaky. When the surgeon, in the abandoned hospital carefully unwinds his bloodied bandages….and then the impatient Joker pushes him aside and rips of the rest, grabs the mirror…and slowly laughs as he stumbles away… cool.

So that leaves us with Ledger, who I would argue, presented the Joker character in the flesh for the first time. (Which is something that I think is hard to do with comic book characters. I rarely see it. Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luther are only a few I can think of. I hear Iron Man is good.) Ledger’s Joker was fun to watch and we wanted to know more about the character so badly that we almost ended up rooting for the guy in the end. The only criticism I had about the movie, and it may be simply because of Ledger’s sudden and tragic death, was the fact that the Joker overshadowed the other characters. Put Ledger the actor aside for a moment…take a look at that storyline and the those performances. It’s actually a brilliant film. Dang…Two-Face is cool, huh? Loved that subplot. But, the film itself won’t get the recognition it deserves because of Ledger’s passing and the fact that for his final performance…he delivered.

I’m not a horror movie fan. My wife is…and if you know her, her soft-spoken, caring and intelligent approach doesn’t seem like the slasher type, but she really loves ’em. I don’t see too many, quite frankly because I like to sleep at night. But there are some movies that skate the fine line between horror and action or fantasy. I can handle those. The Dark Knight was one of those films that really got me pumped up for the closing sequences.

So, my vote goes for Ledger, followed by Nicholson in a close second….followed by anyone without a moustache. Sheesh.

Go the Distance.

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2008 by erikball123

These pictures are from the set of the motion picture “ROCKY BALBOA.” I was an extra in the final fight scene.

There’s this moment in the movie ROCKY where the timid Adrianne looks at her love in the eyes and says “why do you want to fight.” Rocky says simply, “because I can’t sing or dance.”

“Those who can’t….teach” is a common saying. I hear it often. Usually it is presented by someone who has never stepped in front of a class before. Usually it’s said after someone presumes they know what it’s like to be in the field of education…”and those amazing three-month vacations, where teachers relax and walk the beaches…nurture rich, dark tans…and live in Never-Never land until August!”

Give me a break. Granted, my particular position is nothing to complain about. I work in a beautiful school, with amazing students…and the faculty lounge coffee?…..It’s not so bad. But, anyone who says that teaching is a field where lazy, wanna-be professionals go to die…they need a gigantic bite of reality pie.

Rocky is probably not a prime example. But I like the fact that this boxer continues to fight against insurmountable odds, because he truly believes he is destined to do so. “Because he can’t sing or dance.”

This school district in Las Vegas is not a good one. Even the superintendent agrees. But, I refuse to believe that ANY educational environment is beyond hope…and likewise, I refuse to believe that every teacher is “lazy” by the saying’s insinuation. Teachers are forever students, always wanting to grow as providers. I’m not saying we’re all alike…some are short…some are tall. Some graduated with a 3.9 GPAs….some barely graduated….yet all teachers get the same opportunity: “To mold and shape the future leaders!”

I suppose it’s just like saying all lawyers are sharks…and all doctors are quacks. Sheesh. Is there anything nice to say about people out there? Is there any positive reinforcement? I know there is, somewhere. And I’m not just talking about the superficial nonsense that accompanies those denim vests with sparkly reindeer or “Happy Holiday” flowers that elementary teachers wear. Look beyond the Christmas Tree ornaments that say “Teachers are Special”….and remember, before anyone can scrutinize a teacher’s motives…a teacher’s philosophy….a teacher’s effectiveness….you have to agree that at LEAST all teachers have one thing in common….like Rocky Balboa, they keep getting up when knocked down. Everyday is a build up…and test of endurance. Everyday teacher’s must file away their personal lives and allow their student’s personal lives to take the forefront. They must go the distance. In a sense…they are the ultimate student. I can’t think of another job where the goal of the job is to purposely plant yourself in the seat of the target audience and simply…endure….transform….regroup….and engage again.

My wife once said that teaching is the only job where your job description changes EVERYDAY. No two days are the same. Ever. Think about it. A fireman knows that either they will or will not put out fires that day. Teachers put out fires….start fires….talk about starting fires….prevent fires….fuel fires….or catch on fire! They are the only people that plan for the un-plannable. It’s a tough job.

It’s also the most refreshing and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I continue live with the stigma of having to live up to a Private Lutheran School Teacher expectation. Is that too bad? Nah…but it’s an expectation. And in or out of the classroom, attempting to ALWAYS exceed that expectation gets tiring sometimes. Sometimes it feels like a never ending battle. Sometimes it’s a thankless, never ending battle. Sometimes it’s a losing….thankless….neverending battle.

It’s no wonder my colleagues at Faith Lutheran are such amazing people. I know I roll my eyes at the stodgy-ness of some of their philosophies. Perhaps the philosophy that needs to be under the microscope should be mine! My rolling eyes never seem to think that though. But, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have the freedom to go to my Lord in prayer every day. In a school that not only embraces that….but encourages that….well, it makes the un-plannable approachable. It’s makes fire feel bearable. It helps the weakest fighter go the distance.

Alright…I’ll go there. Why am I not working as an actor on Broadway? Heck…working as an actor anywhere! Why? I don’t know. God’s plan, I guess. I can tell you this. Ten years ago, I sure wouldn’t have told you that I was going to be a high school teacher. But then again, ten years ago I was pursuing an acting career…and I was in a self-loathing, self-indulgent, self-ish…pit. My ambitions consisted of landing that commercial audition and feeling the warmth of the spotlight on my face in front of a crowd. Sounds okay for the novice goal-setter! But for the ambitious, A.D.D. actor….nope. It wasn’t enough. I was so scattered…I didn’t know what was around the corner. All I knew was that when I turn that corner, I didn’t really know where I wanted to go next.

Today…I turn the corner and find myself inspired by the shy wallflower in my 4th block class whose eyes sparkled when I used her example in class. Or the tough-guy jock in 1st block who actually made eye-contact with me today and….listened. A milestone? Maybe. A goal reached? I wouldn’t necessarily say that. But I do know that every morning…I put on both of my socks…I shave my patchy face….I eat my Apple Jacks….and I dust myself off, and start all over again.

Those who can’t…teach?

How about: “Those who have faith…teach.”

Without the grace of God…the support of my God…the wisdom and strength of my Lord…I could not even get out of bed. I’d be spineless, scared…and lazy. I’m not the example of a good teacher. Shoot! Not by a long shot! But I’m the example of an average student. One who lives, breathes, prays and learns with my classes everyday. I wouldn’t change that opportunity for anything in the world. Funny thing is….for a silly starry-eyed wanna-be actor….I never even saw it coming!

I don’t agree with Rocky. “…because I can’t sing or dance.” Eh…what does he know. I’ve seen Rhinestone! But I admire the character’s determination. I admire the fact that he knows what he NEEDS to do, whether or not he WANTS to do it. I can’t explain WHY I need to be a teacher. But I do know this…it’s not because of the teacher’s lounge coffee or the promise of a juicy red apple at the end of class. It extends so far beyond that. I can’t tell you why! I don’t know myself.

Instead…I’ll take my summer breaks, thank you! (Or as I call them, “scrimmages.”) Because if it wasn’t for those long runs up the stairs of the library, and the punching bags…and the desire….Rocky would have never gone the distance. I just continue to hope to last the next round….with faith.

%d bloggers like this: